I remember as a child when all my friends entered the phase of wanting to be airline pilots when they grew up. I was right there alongside them. We had our cast steel models of Boeing 707s (from back in the day when the airlines gave them out to kids for free) and tremendously enjoyed running around waving them in the air and making Vroooom noises. But I veered off a bit after my parents wangled a tour of the control tower at the airport. The ground controllers in the top glass-enclosed floor were pretty cool, but then seeing the air traffic controllers in front of their scopes, ordering unseen and unknown pilots to turn their multi-million dollar machines this way and that: I was hooked. The others eventually went their separate ways, none of them turning out to be a pilot. I think the closest any of them came was Carlos Fuentes, who's a travel agent now; he does fly a lot. But my course was set, and led me to college and then the Navy, where I was inducted into the secret society of ATC.

After initial training, I spent 12 months sitting next to a succession of veterans before I talked my first Herc to a safe landing at Montauk AFB, and then it was mostly smooth sailing from there. I got myself into a couple of situations during my seven years in the Navy, and had two actual deals — one of which was on 9/11, and there were several around the country that day — about average, I think. But I'm not the type to go career, and after my discharge I settled in Santa Barbara. I was ready for a small town and a small airport, or so I thought. But after two years working at SBA, and not having found anything to tie me down, I jumped at the chance when I heard of an opening at TRACON in Phoenix, Arizona.

That move to Phoenix was the best thing I ever did in my life. Of course it didn't seem so when they had more than 20 planes stacked for landing due to a closed runway — a Cessna Citation had gotten in the way of a taxiing A320 — and we were a good hour late getting on the ground. I was fuming with the rest of the passengers while we waited, and thankful that my profession hadn't come up as a topic during in-flight chitchat; for some unfathomable reason, passengers blame ATC for these things. In the terminal, I decided I'd hang out in the bar for a while, since there was no one to meet me and I had no place I needed to be, and I could use a cooling off period. And there she was, tending bar.

Pretty, to be sure, though perhaps not so much so as to turn my head if we passed each other on the sidewalk. Perhaps something in her voice had triggered something in me, though she hadn't yet come to my end of the bar and her words with the other customers were not overly loud. Oh, who knows what causes these things, anyway? For all I know, the considerate way she wiped the bar before setting the customer's drink before him was what caught my attention. All I know is, when she made her way down to me and asked what I'd like, I made no attempt to conceal my attraction. The fact that the whiskey sour she brought me was the best I ever had not only helped erase the last vestiges of the foul mood I'd been in, but also provided a starting point for conversation. A conversation so pleasant, even with the punctuation of her attending to other customers, that it caused me to have a second and third drink after the first one I'd intended; I was still there at one o'clock in the morning when she got off work, and she insisted on taking me to a nice motel well away from the airport's interchangeable sleeping machines.

I had a week before I started at TRACON. All my belongings had been shipped ahead and were in a warehouse somewhere. I wasn't really picky, but I figured I'd take a few days looking around for a nice apartment. Monica had the next two days off and suggested that she take me around to a couple of places, and show me the city at the same time. It sounded good to me. I thanked her and she said she'd be by at about noon, and we could get started.

"Oh, one thing: just because I work in an airport doesn't mean I only go out with other people who work in aviation. And I'm not impressed by, for example, pilots who pepper their conversations with aeronautical references. Just lettin' you know."

"Thanks for the warning," I laughed. "I'll keep it in mind. I promise you'll never hear the word blip out of me! I'll see you tomorrow."

We had a very pleasant couple of days, and after we got to know each other somewhat, I moved into a comfortable, homey apartment that I never would have found on my own. It was about three miles from Monica's, and about half way between the airport and the Center. The day after I signed the lease, the moving company delivered my furniture with no problems, and I slipped right in. The neighbors were friendly, and I felt almost as though I had lived there for years.

*       *       *

The next Saturday morning, I was up early and riding the extensive bike path network. The paths meandered and I didn't pay too much attention to where they took me. Though I had no real idea where I was, or even how far from home as the crow flies, I knew I could get back. Passing a small neighborhood park, I stopped to pet the beautiful greyhound that was approaching to grab the tennis ball that had landed near me. Unlike most greyhounds, this one wasn't totally timid and gladly accepted my greeting. While I was shaking her hand, a pair of sneakers entered my view, and I heard "Hey, you must be pretty special. She doesn't usually take to strangers quickly." Even before I looked up, I recognized the voice. "Monica!" We both made inane comments about the improbability of meeting. Turns out we were only about two blocks from her apartment. "Your dog is great! What's her name?" "Crusoe. I adopted her when the racers didn't want her anymore." "Wow, I had an ex-racer once, too. Scylla. She was with me only about three years, unfortunately. She was a great dog." After playing with Crusoe for another hour, I walked them back home. Monica and I talked while I helped her rearrange her furniture, which she said she'd been wanting to do for a while, and before we knew it, it was time for lunch.

I've never been much of a cook; I was amazed when twenty minutes later we sat down on the grass with broiled tuna sandwiches with a mild horseradish sauce, spinach salad with cranberries and slivered almonds, and a chilled pinot grigio.

I was having a great time with her, and I marvelled at my luck in having met her. It wasn't the first time, nor the last.

*       *       *

Almost every weekend, I would investigate a house or two that was for sale, sometimes accompanied by Monica. Eight months after arriving in Phoenix, I stumbled upon a great house, being sold in distress. I knew it would be sold very quickly, but I happened to be the first to see it. On the spot, I borrowed the agent's wireless laptop and arranged for a twenty thousand dollar earnest to be transferred to her firm. Then I told the agent I'd be back in an hour, and sped to Monica's, calling her on the way and telling her to be ready to come with me, while refusing to tell her what was afoot.

She was waiting for me when I pulled up in front of her apartment, and swung into the passenger side of the Jeep before it even came to a full stop. I kept it rolling slowly and gave a loud whistle. "Crusoe! Here, girl!" Crusoe shimmied under the fence, trotted after the Jeep and leapt into the back, and then into Monica's lap. We both laughed, and Monica tried once more to get me to tell her what was up, but I held fast.

When I pulled into the driveway, passing the For Sale sign at its foot, she gasped and got the idea. "Are you buying this house?" "I think so. I hope so." The agent had had to leave for another appointment, but there was a note on the door telling me to go ahead and look around, and that she'd be back soon.

"It's incredible!," she said even before fully entering the living room from the foyer. She knelt on one of the Navajo rugs and ran her fingers across the cool stone floor. Then she jumped to her feet like a schoolgirl and ran off; I followed quickly. The master bedroom, with the skylight in the ceiling and the heating elements in the tile floor met with her audible approval; the large bathroom, with the spacious glass-enclosed shower and the oval bathtub, with plenty of room for two and appearing to meld right into the floor and the sill under the nearly full-height tinted window overlooking the half acre back yard, put a gleam into her eye.

We sat on the edge of the tub, and enjoyed the view of Crusoe exploring. With perhaps the biggest grin I'd ever seen on her face, Monica was emphatic: "This is the perfect house for you!" I had to admit, I'd never seen one I liked better. "I think so too — except for one thing: I don't think I could live in it without you. I'm asking you to share this house with me; I'm asking you to share your life with me as I want to share mine with you…." I slid back the cover concealing the water jet controls, and withdrew a silver ring bearing a small sapphire, so deep blue that you might think the entire universe could be swallowed up in it; it matched her eyes. I held it out to her. "Please marry me, Monica, and make my life complete." "I will," she whispered, then "Oh yes, yes" louder. We threw ourselves into a hug that we just couldn't end. Off in the back yard, a dog barked. In the doorway, a real estate agent softly but ostentatiously cleared her throat.

I looked around and before she could utter a word, I made her day. "I'll take it!"

*       *       *       *       *

I've been wandering around the house all day this morning while Monica is out with some friends. Thirty six years of memories. Starting from the bathroom where I can still see in my mind her acceptance of my marriage proposal, even while my eyes look out and see the small plot where Crusoe is buried, and beside her, Friday, the greyhound we got to keep Crusoe company as soon as we moved in; next to them, Brobdingnag the Doberman and Lilliput, the Jack Russell terrier. After we lost Crusoe, we hadn't wanted to get another dog for several years, but finally we both knew we had to.

On to the dining room, which had started out as an intimate nook for us to dine together, but had later accepted the big oak table when Alison and the twins were growing up. The kids were long out of the house now, and I'd considered reverting back to the minimal arrangement, but I think Monica and I would both see it as perhaps a rejection of them. And of course, we did still have occasional use for it at holidays and when we had friends over.

The kitchen, usually Monica's demesnes, but which had taken the brunt of the damage when she'd been in her Chinese cooking phase, and blew up a Peking duck. We'd decided to completely remodel it after that episode.

So many memories. The good ones that brought a pleasant glow, the bad ones that were always so trying at the time, but which now I see as just as much a part of our story together and which themselves have their good sides: the support we gave each other when we needed it, the strengthening and renewal of our marriage as we got through them. But now, one o'clock was almost upon me and I had to get going. I called for an autocab and strode resolutely down to the street.

*       *       *

"Okay, Phil, just give me a number."

Phil stopped fiddling with the stethescope hanging around his neck, laid it on the desk, and sipped from the water glass. "A month's pretty much guaranteed, but I'd be very surprised if you got three."

I'd pretty much steeled myself for the worst, but it still took a few seconds before I could chuckle and utter what would have to pass for humor: "Can we set up a payment plan?" There was still an awkward silence, so I extended my hand and took my leave of the old friend who had delivered my children into the world and would soon stand by helpless while I left it.

On the way home, I stopped by the bank and got some papers from the safe deposit box. Over the next hour I verified that my will was in order, and started on the first of several letters I'd have to write. I didn't get far into it before I had to stop and let the facts of my approaching end sink in.

I'm afraid I nodded off, because the next thing I knew, Monica was gently shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a look of concern on her face, her other hand resting on the desk; she seemed to be waiting for me to speak first.

"Honey … we've got a situtation."

# # #

Sit`u*a"tion (?), n. [LL. situatio: cf. F. situation.]

1.

Manner in which an object is placed; location, esp. as related to something else; position; locality site; as, a house in a pleasant situation.

2.

Position, as regards the conditions and circumstances of the case.

A situation of the greatest ease and tranquillity. Rogers.

3.

Relative position; circumstances; temporary state or relation at a moment of action which excites interest, as of persons in a dramatic scene.

There's situation for you! there's an heroic group! Sheridan.

4.

Permanent position or employment; place; office; as, a situation in a store; a situation under government.

Syn. -- State; position; seat; site; station; post; place; office; condition; case; plight. See State.

 

© Webster 1913.

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